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The Manual of Detection Paperback – Bargain Price, January 26, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Set in an unnamed city, Berry's ambitious debut reverberates with echoes of Kafka and Paul Auster. Charles Unwin, a clerk who's toiled for years for the Pinkerton-like Agency, has meticulously catalogued the legendary cases of sleuth Travis Sivart. When Sivart disappears, Unwin, who's inexplicably promoted to the rank of detective, goes in search of him. While exploring the upper reaches of the Agency's labyrinthine headquarters, the paper pusher stumbles on a corpse. Aided by a narcoleptic assistant, he enters a surreal landscape where all the alarm clocks have been stolen. In the course of his inquiries, Unwin is shattered to realize that some of Sivart's greatest triumphs were empty ones, that his hero didn't always come up with the correct solution. Even if the intriguing conceit doesn't fully work, this cerebral novel, with its sly winks at traditional whodunits and inspired portrait of the bureaucratic and paranoid Agency, will appeal to mystery readers and nongenre fans alike. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

The comparisons used by critics in describing The Manual of Detection—Borges! Chesterton! Bradbury! Kafka! Lynch! Gilliam!—may seem overblown. But this list of literary (and cinematic) heavy hitters may not be hyperbolic praise so much as the only means available to explain how a book that initially seems to be a private eye novel can also be a work of absurdist art, “a surreal transmogrification of a genre” (Wall Street Journal). The critics might not have been able to categorize it, but they were also unable to put it down. However, as more than one reviewer pointed out, this may not be the best book for those who like their gumshoes straight, no chaser.
Copyright 2009 Bookmarks Publishing LLC --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics); Reprint edition (January 26, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143116517
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143116516
  • ASIN: B003XU7VUG
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,658,281 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jedediah Berry's first novel, The Manual of Detection, won the Crawford Fantasy Award and the Dashiell Hammett Prize. His short stories have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Best New American Voices and Best American Fantasy. He currently teaches at Bard College.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Mira Bartok on March 19, 2009
Format: Hardcover
For Charles Unwin, the reluctant hero in Jedediah Berry's eloquent and surreal first novel, The Manual of Detection, time is curiously stretched beyond recognition and dreams are labyrinthine and vulnerable to devious invasion. Mysterious femme fatales, surly criminals and singing somnambulants lurk around every corner, each offering more bizarre clues for Unwin who is trying to solve the murder of a famous detective so he can clear his own name and get his job back as a lowly and fastidious clerk at The Agency, a Kafka-esque organization that tracks down villains and protects the city's nocturnal secrets, for better or for worse.

This is a detective story that defies genre. Many of the crimes committed in this tale happen inside people's dreams, which brings to mind a couple films, such as Brazil, The City of Lost Children, and Delicatessen. The book also resonates a little like Borges but in a much more welcoming, ironic and darkly humorous way. It is part film noir, part fabulist-fairy tale, and part page-turner mystery, written in an elegant and restrained style.

I loved the world that Berry created for his readers: a mythic, rainy sleep-deprived metropolis populated by a cast of brilliantly conceived characters. I just didn't want it to end. Read the book and pass it on. And look for the secret bonus---there's a palindrome inside and who doesn't love palindromes?
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Blake Fraina VINE VOICE on May 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The Manual of Detection reads like the love-child of Dashiell Hammett and Terry Gilliam. First time novelist Jedediah Berry stirs all the tropes of a hard-boiled detective story with surrealistic fantasy elements to create a delightfully eccentric concoction that goes down easy despite the serious message at its core.

Anyone familiar with the famous quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin,"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety," will probably appreciate the story of Charles Unwin, a fastidious and rule-abiding office clerk, who is unwittingly thrust into a web of intrigue when the celebrated detective he works for goes missing. While investigating the sudden disappearance, Unwin stumbles on a nefarious plot to gain control over the minds of the citizens by infiltrating their dreams. It's the ultimate invasion of privacy and its origins are as surprising as they are sinister. I can't help but wonder if the Patriot Act was high on Berry's mind when the idea for this book was conceived. But despite how dire that sounds, this is hardly a heavy, preachy affair. It's full of quirky humour and unexpected twists, not to mention a host of oddball characters.

Along the way, we meet the cigar-chomping detective Sivart, a pair of [formerly] conjoined twin thugs, an addled museum guard, some very sorry looking elephants, a psychic giantess, an army of sleepwalkers, a villainous ventriloquist, plus three ladies straight out of a classic noir - Emily, the plucky, can-do assistant, Cleo Greenwood, the honey-voiced femme fatale, and the mysterious "woman in the plaid coat.
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44 of 51 people found the following review helpful By D.E. on July 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Other reviewers have dealt well with the plot so I will deal more with my criticism of the story development itself. The novel starts out well, with the author creating a slightly surreal but believable book-noir world in a mysterious yet some how familiar city.(Think Bladerunner crossed with Something Wicked This Way Comes for the atmosphere.)The characters are interesting and their lives are developed enough to hold interest yet not so developed that there is no mystery. Sadly, somewhere about halfway to two thirds of the way through, the story descends into a seemingly never ending sequence of nested dream worlds and the associated plot twists were less surprising than ultimately annoying. For me, this just became very tedious and exasperating and resulted in a very slow read. By the last 30-40 pages I simply didn't care how the story would ultimately be resolved. The author definitely has talent as a writer of fiction but I think he needs to be reigned in by a good editor who would have trimmed some of the more outlandish elements from this novel.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By David W. Straight on March 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This novel reminds me a lot of Terry Gilliam's movie Brazil: a lowly clerk suddenly finds his world turned upside-down. A rather humdrum life has become a nightmare where nothing is as it seems: somewhere between dreaming and wakefulness, between reality and something you know is a dream, a trip on LSD. Unwin is a clerk--one of many in a huge room--on the 14th floor of the Agency. On the 29th floor is the person he clerks for, Detective Sivart. On the 36th floor is the Watcher Lamech, who oversees Sivart, and well below Unwin are the underclerks. Communications are all done through messengers. For anyone--clerk, underclerk, detective, or watcher--to be on the wrong floor of the Agency is a terrible and unthinkable breech. Everything is regimented--very regimented. Then Unwin's regimented life takes an abrupt upheaval.

Unwin is told that he's been promoted to Detective, and to move to Sivart's office on the 29th floor: Sivart has gone missing. Unwin reports to Sivart's boss, Watcher Lamech, only to find that Lamech has been murdered. So Unwin sets out to find Sivart, and you find yourself sucked into the whirlpool. Unwin meets the elusive Cleopatra Greenwood, Sivart's femme fatale (for lack of a more appropriate term for this very strange woman) and Sivart's archenemy Hoffman. The further you read, the more yu feel as though you've entered a hallucination. Everything is off-kilter: you enter a world of narcolepsy and somnambulism. Unwin follows somnambulists who go to the Cat & Tonic carrying bags of alarm clocks to gamble with. There's Caligari's Circus, taken over by Hoffman (Cleopatra Greenwood used to be a performer).
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